The way a community in a corner of Brighton and Hove has been treated by the Council over the last 24 months should serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of the City.
In 2018 Coldean’s residents were told that the Council’s Housing Venture had earmarked a much loved and ecologically valuable green space adjoining the South Downs for high rise housing development.
Local residents, along with the Coldean Residents’ Association, Coldean Womens’ Group and Stanmer Preservation Society were understandably concerned - and had very good reasons to object to the proposal.
Just a few years earlier residents had been led to believe the land was safe from development. An Urban Study conducted by the Council had proposed this area for designation as a Local Nature Reserve. The proposed housing site was also designated as a Local Wildlife Site. So how was it now considered suitable for 242 dwellings in high-rise blocks?
Residents began reaching out to their councillors and spent much of the early part of 2019 organising a well-research and well-signed local community petition that reached 965 signatures.
The development was put on the back burner in the lead up to the local council elections in May 2019, and the Hollingdean and Stanmer Ward returned one Green and two Labour councillors as the Coldean’s representatives.
But as soon as the election was finished a troubling series of events started to unfold.
Labour and the Greens signed a Coalition-style agreement covering many of the Council’s policy areas. Unfortunately for Coldean’s residents this included the housing policy area.
Residents had not voted for this Coalition agreement but were suddenly faced with an administration (Labour) and Official Opposition (Greens) that were in lock step with an inscrutable joint policy on housing.
Little more than a month later, the Labour-Green council rubber stamped the Coldean development and put it into their 10-year development plan: the City Plan.
Residents were shocked and felt betrayed that their hard community work over many months had been so quickly disregarded.
Shortly afterwards though, the Coldean community had some renewed cause for hope.
In early 2020, amid reports the development had been paused after the financial viability had failed to stack up, the Council published updated figures showing that the City’s minimum housing target could be met entirely through brownfield sites in the City.
Residents had been previously told by the administration that Coldean’s green space would be saved from development if the City’s Housing target could be met without it, and now they had an opportunity to make this point in the Council’s statutory City Plan consultation process.
Residents diligently completed this consultation, organised a new petition signed by 1002 residents and community groups put together two detailed deputations ahead of a full council meeting scheduled for October – their only opportunity to address council during the consultation period.
They hoped that the City’s new Green administration would put the environment first – but they were let down again. As residents have since found out, although the administration changed from Labour to the Greens last year, their signed Coalition agreement continues to apply.
Disgracefully, knowing that this site wasn’t financially viable, Greens and Labour convened a hastily arranged meeting the day before the full council meeting Coldean residents were planning to attend, and pushed through a decision to convert the council’s housing venture into a Development Company to make the Coldean development financially viable.
The Mayor then denied residents their democratic right by ruling the petitions and deputations would not be considered at the October Council meeting saying a decision had already been made.
To add insult to injury, works commenced at the Coldean site before the results of the consultation have even been presented to the Planning Inspector to consider, suggesting the council’s consultation process was a sham.
Residents in Coldean will have a chance to let Labour and the Greens know what they think at a by-election in the Hollingdean and Stanmer ward on 6 May.
But this story also contains a warning to other areas of the City. If this is how Labour and the Greens treat its own ward residents, how will they treat you?
Only the Conservative Group is committed to saving our City’s urban fringe from development - we are the only group standing between this Council and the concreting over of the last few green spaces in our City.